Sep 25, 2018

Strange things Americans do

We are so used to the everyday things we do that we think the rest of the world does that same thing – or should.  Our culture is so pervasive that many of our customs have caught on worldwide and most people around the world accept our idiosyncrasies. 

I love a lot of ice in my drinks and so do many other people.  Foreigners think that putting ice in a drink waters it down so you don’t get the full value of what you are buying.  Also, expecting a free refill is not common in other countries unless it is an American fast food chain restaurant. France has banned free soda refills.  Walking around with a coffee cup is also a surprise to some foreigners because imbibing in coffee and tea is time to sit down, relax and interact with friends.

One of the most common comments I have heard deals with the size of our meals. We love “super-size” and restaurants often advertise “We have the biggest….” Usually I respond by
saying, “Many times we are buying two meals. Eat some and take the rest home;” which brings up another of our idiosyncrasies. In many countries asking for a doggy bag is gauche but, at least in Asia, they tend to humor us and wrap up the leftover food.  

That brings to mind the use of the world “American.”  We call ourselves Americans forgetting
that America is an entire continent. There are many countries in the Americas. Many Europeans refer to us as the “Yanks” and saying they are going to The States not America.

Because our culture is so pervasive that some of our customs have spread. One thing I wish we had not spread is the habit of tipping. Several times while in a foreign country we have had one of the waitstaff chase after us, “You forgot your money!” In most countries the salaries of the staff is not dependent on tips. 

On the plus side.  We smile a lot so people see us as basically
happy and optimistic. Ahead of the Beijing Olympics, the governments encouraged people to smile more.  They were told they could strengthen the smile muscles by clenching a chopstick between their teeth. Greeting people is different in many cultures.  We will shake hands with everyone regardless of age or status. And, often hug. I wish we would adopt the Thai way. Put hands in prayer position with a slight bow of the head.  That takes care of everyone. Shaking hands started in the medieval time as a way to determine if the person you were meeting had a weapon – same as hugging.  

When we travel we try not to use too many hand signs.  Now, even at home if we are motioning for someone to come hither, we point our fingers down with the palm toward us and then signal come here.  That eliminates some hand signals that are rude or offensive in other counties. We never use the thumbs up or OK sign.  

There are others… we don’t use the metric system. Myanmar uses
miles but divides it into furlongs.  The British were there for many years. Many countries write the date dd/mm/year which I think is more logical. We have American flags everywhere – even on clothing.  Some see us as being over-the-top patriotic to the point of jingoism. 

I think the origin of customs is interesting.  If everyone did everything the same there would be no reason to travel.